Infants born with NTDs may have other conditions that need treatment. Such conditions vary from one infant to another, and some conditions develop or must be addressed over time or later in life.
The most severe issues tend to develop in infants who have myelomeningocele, the most severe form of spina bifida.1 Associated conditions can include the following.
Many infants born with spina bifida have a buildup of fluid in and around the brain, a condition called hydrocephalus. The extra fluid can cause swelling that pushes some brain structures against the skull or away from where they are usually located, which may lead to brain injury.
Chiari II Malformation
In many children with myelomeningocele, the brain is positioned abnormally. The lower part of the brain rests farther down than normal, partially in the upper spinal canal. This unusual position can block cerebrospinal fluid and cause hydrocephalus. Although most affected children have no other symptoms, a few may have upper body weakness and trouble breathing and swallowing.
Tethered Spinal Cord
Unlike a normal spinal cord, which floats freely in the spinal canal, in spina bifida, the spinal cord is attached to the spinal canal. This attachment means the spinal cord stretches as a person grows, which can cause spinal nerve damage. The person might have back pain, scoliosis (crooked spine), weakness in the legs and feet, bladder or bowel control problems, and other problems.
Paralysis and Limitations in Mobility
People with spina bifida high on the back (near the head, for instance) might not be able to move their legs, torso, or arms. People with spina bifida low on the back (near the hips, for example) might have some leg mobility and be able to walk unassisted or with crutches, braces, or walkers.
Lack of Bladder and Bowel Control
People with spina bifida often cannot control their bladder or their bowel movements. They also can develop urinary tract infections.
Many people with spina bifida—possibly three-quarters of those with the condition—are allergic to latex, or natural rubber. Although researchers still do not entirely understand why this rate is so high, some experts believe that frequent exposure to latex can cause the allergy. Exposure to latex is common for people with spina bifida who have shunts and have had many surgeries.2
Studies have shown wide variability in deficits associated with learning disabilities among patients with spina bifida. These include intellectual disability, substandard scores on some types of memory tests and tasks related to executive function, and nonverbal learning problems.3 This syndrome shares some of its characteristic features with autism spectrum disorders, specifically what used to be called Asperger syndrome.
Some people with myelomeningocele have additional physical or psychological conditions, including digestive, vision, sexual, social, and emotional problems; obesity; and depression.